Meet the women taking their place as CEO’s in Kenya

A lot has been said about women entrepreneurs in Kenya.

Women have distinguished themselves and we have trailblazers like Tabitha Karanja of Keroche Industries, Flora Mutahi of Melvin’s Tea, Gina Din Kariuki of Gina Din Communications, Judith Owingar of AkiraChix, Lorna Rutto of Eco posts, Ruth Mwanzia of Koola Waters, Shikha Vincent of Shikazuri and Michelle Ntalami of Marini Naturals to name a few.

Entrepreneurship is mainly about business skills, determination, resilience, networking, and social impact. Women are working their way into this area and are slowly but surely making headway.

A lot of focus and support has been given to women entrepreneurs through grants, training, access to finance and favorable government policies like Access to Government Procurement (AGPO) to name a few. More women are encouraged to participate in this sector.

Women in the corporate world have an uphill task to get their place and break all the glass ceilings. Sheryl Sandberg – COO of Facebook, in her book LEAN IN, gives insights into what the life of a woman in corporate America is and how to maneuver it.

According to, there were 27 women at the helm of Fortune 500 companies as at January 2018. How about corporate Kenya?

I admire women in the corporate world because apart from the normal barriers they encounter and overcome, boys club mentality, patriarchy, high technical skills, experience, glass ceiling mentality (Gender stereotyping), sexual harassment, inflexible working conditions and integrity.

The corporate world is harsh and cutthroat. The impact is mostly measured in terms of PROFITS and PROFITS. Only recently have corporates embraced a wider scale to measure the impact of CEO’s to include social impact, teamwork, employee innovation and customer retention to name a few.

This shift gives women a chance to shine as their natural skills of collaboration and teamwork are an asset.

Entrepreneurship is forgiving on the requirements of higher education and experience. A person with a basic education can quickly become a business mogul. However, in the corporate world, experience and education have a lot of weight.

The current trend to consider leadership, softer skills and strategic leadership has made it more accessible for women.

Due to gender roles and social pressure, many women in the past were not in a position to access higher education and therefore did not get promotions to enable them to rise up.

Currently, women are taking up chances to improve their education hence giving them more edge to compete in the corporate world. Experience is a matter of time; men had an advantage of this. In the last 20 years, women have proved that given a fair chance they too climb the corporate ladder right up to the top.

Why do we need women in CEO positions?


People in the corporate world manage a large amount of money and direct how it is used. Gender diversity has also been proven over the years to increase profits and performance of corporations.

Therefore, further inclusion of women has been proved to attract talent in the boardrooms where innovative solutions are created. Invariably more women-friendly products and policies emerge from companies that are managed by women. After all, women are 50% of the consumers of products and services.

The simple fundamental reason why women should be in the corporate world is that it’s fair and inclusive to do so.

In Kenya, we have many distinguished ladies at the helm of corporates and organizations. This has increased recently, but to date, only 2 women lead corporations listed on the Nairobi Stock Exchange i.e. Maria Msiska of BOC  (until 2016) and Nasim Devji of DTB Bank. We can do better.

Here are examples of Women CEO’s in Kenya:

  • Jennifer Riria is a pioneer of women in CEO position and has been holding this and similar positions in the microfinance and banking industry for 20 years. She is the CEO of Kenya Women Holdings that has a subsidiary Kenya Women microfinance Bank which is a leading bank for women entrepreneurs. She is a Ph.D. holder and has a Degree and Master degree as well.


  • Stella Njunge: CEO of Sanlam Life, part of Sanlam Kenya Group. She has over 15 years’ experience in the insurance industry,  a CPA(K), CPS(K), and holds a degree and masters. Stella also has over 16 years’ experience in Insurance.


  • Catherine Karimi: CEO of APA Life part of Apollo Group a leading insurer in Kenya. She has 18 years’ experience in Insurance industry, a degree, postgraduate certificate in Actuarial Studies, and is a member of Chartered Insurers (UK).


  • Rita Kavashe: is the CEO of General Motors East Africa, Kenya with 35 years’ experience working at GM. She has a degree and postgraduate certificates and rose through the ranks.


  • Phyllis Wakiaga: is the CEO of Kenya Association of Manufacturers. She has a law degree, Higher Diploma in Law and Human Resource Management, Master Degrees in International Trade and Investment Law and Business Administration.

There are many more female CEO’s in Kenya. The common items in their profiles are EDUCATION AND EXPERIENCE.  This is a true testament that education is an equalizer.

Given equal opportunity and based on merit, women can excel and are excelling in the corporate world. Girls need to be encouraged to plan their career path early to help them reach the top CEO positions to bridge the current gap.

I look forward to more women taking up the CEO roles and reducing the barriers to getting there.

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Ruth Mwanzia: I grew up in a region that faced many challenges with water

Ruth Mwanzia
Ruth Mwanzia started @KoolaWaters to address water challenges Click To Tweet

Ruth Mwanzia is making it rain…well not literally. She grew up in Kitui, a semi-arid region in Kenya that often faces water scarcity and drought. Being a #MotherlandMogul in the making, Ruth decided to start her own water bottling company, Koola waters. Koola waters manufactures, distributes, treats and packages water.

As a child of her community, Ruth is also involved in several corporate social responsibility (CSR) ventures in Kitui, as well as other parts of Kenya. Read on to learn what it takes to enter the water manufacturing business.

Why did you decide to enter a business in manufacturing, distribution, treatment and packaging of drinking water?

I wanted to make a difference in my community. Having grown up in Kitui, a region in Kenya that experiences semi-arid type of climate, we faced many challenges to do with water; water scarcity, drought and water shortages. After I graduated from campus, I asked myself what I could do to address this situation. Thus, Koola waters was born.

Koola is a company that specializes in manufacturing, distribution, treatment and packaging of pure drinking water. Through Koola waters, we supply water to eight regions in Kenya including Kitui.

What do you think of the water manufacturing industry in Kenya? What makes Koola waters stand out from the rest?

It’s a competitive field and it’s a fast-growing industry. Why we stand out, first all our water is very sweet because its UV treated and well micro-filtered. Koola water goes through seven stages of filtration.

Second, we care about the community and we are involved in many CSR activities. Third is our unique packaging, the customer and the community are always at our heart.

How are you making impact in the community?

We are making an impact in the community by engaging in various community activities to give back. We do lots of tree planting activities in Kitui, mentorship activities across different universities in Kenya, work with several Kenyan charities and we also support a local football team in Kenya.

koola-watersWhat particular challenges have you found offering employment to other young people?

  • Lack of experience, but through regular training they are able to gain the experience for the job.
  • Lack of stability: Many of the young employees have no clear vision of their careers. They join a company and once they find another good opportunity they will switch. This is always a huge loss to the organization.
  • Discipline issues: Not all, but most of them, are unaware of work culture environment. They do not turn up on time, they do not strictly follow the HR rules. Many of young employees try to take leaves more than they are provided with. This is a question of discipline.

Yet above all this, I love working with young people. Through mentorship, education and training, they are able to gain the skills required for the job

What different marketing strategies have you used to promote Koola waters?

Koola waters employ different marketing strategies;

  • We work with main stream media, where we do features so people are able to know what we do
  • We also do digital marketing, we are very active in social media
  • Finally, we engage in content marketing and brand publishing
Ruth Mwanzia - The water manufacturing industry in Kenya is competitive and fast-growing Click To Tweet

Are there any challenges unique to your industry that you’ve discovered?

  • Small-scale bottled water companies are often confronted with price wars that erode profit margins and at times even lead to losses.
  • There is also the effect from regulatory-related constraints. For example, increases in the import duty of plastic pellets and the ongoing hot topic of the regulation on the management of water resources.
  • Cost structure, which is dominated by the cost of plastic packaging and distribution costs. This has made our industry quite sensitive to fluctuations in the exchange rate. The industry is heavily reliant on imported plastic, raw materials and gasoline.
  • Competition from well established brands in the market.

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